In a season that was labeled "rebuilding" by some, Terrance Knighton certainly played a huge role in the process as a rookie who was a full-time starter. After all, the Jaguars defensive tackle knows what it takes to get a team back on track.
Knighton played his college football at Temple University, where the team's record was 10-38 during his time there. In his freshman year, the Owls lost all 12 of their games.
Then Temple hired Al Golden as head coach, leading to a one-win sophomore season, a 4-8 junior campaign, and in 2008, Knighton's senior year, the Owls went 5-7.
"He just flipped everything, it was a whole 180-degree turn and we just built on each year," Knighton said of Golden.
Knighton says he gains satisfaction out of last year's team's success as Temple played in its first Bowl in 30 years, falling 31-20 to UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl.
"I didn't mind being one of those guys who had to go through the process," Knighton said. "I was just a year early."
Knighton takes pride in the fact that he was a part of the group that helped put Temple back on track.
"That's part of the reason why I work hard now, to show that we have talent at Temple," Knighton said.
It is not the only reason he works hard, however.
Knighton was expecting to be drafted in the late fourth, maybe early fifth round of the NFL draft last year. Yet, as he watched defensive tackle after defensive tackle get taken early, he realized his name might be moving up the draft board.
And when Jacksonville selected Knighton in the early stages of the third round, he understood the implications.
"I knew what they were expecting. They're trying to go back to the old Jaguars defense, shutting down the run and smothering the offense," Knighton said. "I knew the expectation of me coming in to compete for a starting job."
With that in mind, Knighton did his best to fulfill such expectations.
More than simply competing for a starting job, Knighton earned it, starting all 16 games at defensive tackle. He was one of the most consistent players on defense, and he knew that being available was the best way for him to make an impact in his rookie season.
"Coming into the league, I knew that longevity is something that's respected in this league and doing things off the field like taking care of your body allow you to have a long career," he said.
Knighton stepped in big-time as the defense had need for a second big body next to "Big John" Henderson in the middle of the defensive line to clog holes and stuff the run. His 335-pound frame did just that. It also causes people to scratch their heads when they find out he was a wide receiver in high school.
"Yeah, I could catch the ball a little bit. We ran the Wing-T but most of the time I was split out and I made a lot of catches," he said. "I was taller than most guys in high school – about six-feet, three-inches and 250 pounds. I love catching the ball and scoring touchdowns. I could still do it, too."
Knighton is quick to respond when told that he doesn't weigh 250 anymore.
"No, but I can still catch. You put me on the goal line, use play-action or something like that."
In reality, Knighton knows where he fits on the defensive line, and he knows where he would like to be someday.
"A personal goal is that I just want to be the best at what I do," Knighton said.
He says that he watches the premier nose tackles around the league, listing Casey Hampton of the Steelers, Jamal Williams of the Chargers, and Shaun Rogers of the Lions.
"I take what I can from everybody's game and try to do it to my game so I can be the best," Knighton said.
He said he does the same on his own roster – Henderson, Atiyyah Ellison and Montavious Stanley – watching how they play and incorporating it into his own style. He also noted the preparation of Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and others.
"I watch how Torry Holt mentally prepares himself and how he develops a routine to take care of his body," Knighton said. "You can take a little bit from everybody."
Knighton doesn't limit his inspirations to the present, however, citing the late Hall of Famer Reggie White as someone that he admired.
"Coming up in high school, I fell in love with Reggie White's game and in college I wore number 92 because of him," Knighton said. "He's one of the best defensive linemen to ever play the game. People respected him on the field, off the field, as a teammate, as a father."
"He's just one of the great players – one of those lifetime players," Knighton said.
Knighton has the desire, has the work ethic and has tasted defeat in college, and he knows what it takes to work up from there.
"I just plan on being one of those players someday," he explains.
'Someday' may be sooner than later.
Knighton logged 53 tackles, one and a half sacks and three quarterback pressures in his rookie season. His seven tackles for loss were second only to linebacker Daryl Smith, who had nine.
"I plan on taking myself to the next level and being a leader on the field for years to come," Knighton said.
Besides finding his niche on the defense, Knighton quickly found his niche in the locker room, as well. Always joking with teammates and carrying on conversational banter, Knighton was not your normal quiet rookie. On one of the first road trips, Knighton earned the nickname "Pot Roast" when Clint Ingram overheard Knighton's meal order.
Teammates, television commentators, and even head coach Jack Del Rio all refer to the big defender as "Pot Roast."
"I don't mind the nickname," Knighton said. "My family likes it and my girlfriend likes it. It's a good nickname for a D-tackle and I plan on having fun with it this offseason and in my career."
Obviously, the name stuck – and with the Jaguars, so has Knighton.